An overdue baby boom

By Walid Al Saqqaf on January 4th, 2012

Nearly two years ago, my wife and I found out we were expecting our first child. It was such a thrilling time. We got excited at all the things we would do and get for her when she finally entered the world.

We powered up our laptops in the quest of information, hungry to digest as much as possible. We wanted to be the best parents, know everything there was to know, purchase the best equipment and become experts on parenthood.

As it turns out, we weren’t the only ones. A cursory look revealed that many of the posts with the most likes and comments on Facebook have to do with babies. So much passion, interest, excitement and fear is involved in parenting that a plethora of internet sites and technologies have emerged to support this £3.6bn industry in the UK.

A recent survey taken by MarketingtoMoms revealed that 88 per cent of mums rely on the web for parental guidance, advice and ideas for raising children. According to that same survey, 95 per cent of mums said they are online at least once a day, turning to blogs and social networking sites to share the joys, challenges and fears of parenting.

Sites such as Café Mom, Baby Center and Ask a Mum offer tips and advice for parents on potty training, breastfeeding and much more to help with the adventure of parenthood.

But are these sites really answering parents’ fears, aiding with their decision-making or adequately informing them? In an industry with millions of sites, ranging from blogs and online forms to content and e-commerce sites, there’s an awful lot of contradictory information and quality can be exceedingly variable.

On the iPhone alone, there are over 750 pregnancy apps and 4,500 baby ones. It quickly becomes evident to new parents that the emphasis is still on us to decipher this maze of information.

No wonder parents can feel paralysed by the quantity of information: the various services and resources resemble the Web 1.0 world where technology had limited or no interconnectivity or sharing functions and where authority, relevance and trustworthiness indicators were sporadic at best.

As a parent myself, I faced those same issues and was desperate to apply my Web 2.0 expertise to build a single website that would help parents know what products they need, when they need them and how to use them.

Technology is getting smarter and increasingly interconnected. It’s not hard to imagine a future in which technology becomes your virtual midwife during pregnancy and your health visitor after birth. Imagine, for example, a patch-like fetal doppler which sticks to a pregnant belly, monitoring your baby’s heart and alerting parents and health services of any irregularities.

What about ultrasound machines that produce life-sized 3D baby images that can be visualised and manipulated in a manner similar to that in Minority Report, for parents to admire and share with their loved ones?

Once a baby is born, technology could help parents understand the mystery of what their baby wants with nano-patches and facial recognition software that learns what a baby is trying to communicate. Is it time for a feed? A nap? Am I sick? Or does my nappy need to be changed?

These nano-patches, directly attached to the child, could also analyse the child’s blood, informing parents of the his nutritional requirements, and when it is time for vaccinations. All of this collected information could then be used to compare your child to a database of millions of others for parents and health professionals to monitor and evaluate trends.

Toys, too, will be loaded with that kind of technology to help encourage a child’s development skills, whether they are verbal or non-verbal. They will, of course, be equipped with state-of-the-art sensors and audio and video recording capabilities with which you will be able to capture your child’s first words and steps in case you miss them. The software will alert you of any imminent danger, such as falling down stairs or even cot death.

We are seeing a new breed of entrepreneurs revolutionising the web and, by extension, the tools we use to enjoy our personal lives. The journal is now a blog, our address book is now Facebook, our family photo album Flickr, our Polaroid camera, Instagram. But the sphere of parenthood is still largely untroubled by this revolution.

Maybe when the Zuckerbergs, Masons and Crowleys start having kids of their own, things will get radical. For now, it remains one of the great untouched areas of our lives, desperately ripe for innovation.